Four Directions Explained

Four Directions for Lifelong Learning      
Ferdi Serim,  © 1998

"Among the People, a child's first Teaching is of the Four Great Powers of the Medicine Wheel. To the North is found Wisdom. The South is the place of Innocence and Trust. The West is the Looks-Within Place, which speaks to our introspective Nature. The East is the Place of Illumination, where we can see things clearly, far and wide....

"At birth, each of us is given a particular Beginning Place within these Four Great Directions. This Starting Place gives us our first way of perceiving things, which will then be our easiest and most natural way througout our lives. But any person who perceives from only one of these Four Great Directions will remain a partial man." - from The Seven Arrows by Hyemeyohsts Storm

 Reaching forward to us from a time when words outlived people, not through technology, nor printing, nor even papyrus, but through sacred story and song, the wisdom of human beings rings as true now as it did then. Learning is not  a pastime restricted to a set of years we spend on either public or private buildings dedicated to schooling. Rather it is a path we embark upon, hopefully assisted by members of our society who relate to one another as "the People", and seeing youth as part the same fabric in which they are woven, see it as their duty to keep alive the riches thus far gathered, by imparting knowledge in the form of observable meaning.

Today, we have the greatest difficulty seeing ourselves as "the People" unless we are imagining ourselves under alien attack. Short of that, or natural disaster, we are more prone to define ourselves along the lines of our differences,  rather than the commonalities we share on this lifetime voyage. The richness and depth of our experience does depend upon the perceptual and conceptual tools with which we equip ourselves. Each direction offers its contribution to us today, in forms "the People" could never have imagined.

Many in our society decry technology as a dehumanizing influence. Taken to its logical extreme in isolation, mastery of any one of the Four Directions can lead to pathology. However, technology is really as passive as the rest of the universe; if you're pointed in the wrong direction, it will only take you someplace you don't want to go that much sooner. Used in other  ways, you may arrive at your destination with new companions and greater insights than you could have reached in isolation.

I'd like to share with you what we're learning about the Four Directions for Lifelong Learning that we see being made possible today. The imagery that depicts life as an opportunity to come to terms with the lessons from each of these directions has helped us make sense out of the potentials of the Internet. Our Four  Directions are paired in skills and their purposeful application. We use these attributes to organize the processes we offer to individuals who work with us in the Online Internet Institute, but they will work for anyone.

The Online Internet Institute (OII) is a results driven organization, which offers professional development workshops to help students and teachers improve classroom achievment. OII provides educators with a learning environment to support integrating the Internet into their individual teaching styles and offers a combination of online and onsite collaborations in which participants develop projects to use in their classrooms. Participants  extend what they already know about teaching and learning by gaining skills required to participate productively in a networked world of knowledge building:

First we see Communication/Collaboration - using a variety of  technology tools and techniques for organizing people into effective ad hoc teams. This involves personal reorientations that are not trivial for teachers. Moving from an independent, isolated paradigm to one of effective teamwork  means knowing what you know, what you need to know and how to effectively communicate these two things. Reflective practice is at the heart of this skillset.

Next, we move into Exploration/Evaluation - making sense of  the Internet, by learning how to survey the field and assess what's available. In exploring, we are observing with fresh eyes, open to the unexpected, and constantly assessing the usefulness of everything we encounter. The "sense of place" we grow while working through this direction forms a vital foundation for subsequent online success.

The next stage brings us to Navigation/Research - strategies for seeking and finding good  data. Our uses of technology are now more purposeful and focused. We are more concerned with the accuracy, currency and validity of what we discover, and seek ways to organize our questions to result in the most effective use of  our time.

Finally, we arrive at Synthesis/Presentation - taking what makes sense and using it to make meaning. This direction relies heavily upon all the others, and represents the greatest challenge to people who've  been schooled in traditional methods. Earlier this year, I was offered the challenge of compiling the best resources I could gather about new ways of teaching and learning through technology for the Milken Exchange on Education  Technology. I asked 65 of the leading education technologists for their favorite resources (beyond those they'd created) and 36 hours later, I was drowning in data. Fortunately, within a week, I grew data gills that enabled me to metabolize information into meaning. How can we help our peers and our students to make this transition?

The answer takes us back to the Beginning Place...by synthesizing meaning, our presentation readies us for a new round of communication and collaboration at a higher level, in useful service to each other and the rest of humanity.

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Last updated 3/21/06